Air pollution affects the health of children even before they are born

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Of all the things pregnant women have to consider, the amount of air pollution they breathe may not be at the top of the list. But, experts say, this is an important consideration and expectant parents may not have much control.

By email to NM Political Report, Elizabeth Bechard, senior policy analyst at Mom Clean Air, said air pollution can harm babies even before they are born.

While there is evidence that exposure to air pollution during pregnancy can affect the unborn child, Dr. Mary Prunicki, senior director of air pollution and health research at Stanford University School of Medicine, said more studies are needed to fully understand the risks.

Prunicki has been researching how air pollution affects health, including the potential effects of wildfire smoke on unborn babies.

“There aren’t many studies looking at just the babies from these mothers exposed to high levels of air pollution, but it’s similar to smoking during pregnancy,” Prunicki said.

Smoking while pregnant is linked to tissue damage to the baby’s lungs and brain, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Some studies have indicated that tobacco can contribute to miscarriage. Babies born to smokers are also more likely to be born prematurely and have a low birth weight.

Prunicki says prenatal exposure to air pollution can affect some key immune genes.

Prunicki by A Research It was published last year looking at these effects of prenatal air pollution. The participating women lived in Fresno, California, an area with high levels of air pollution. This study found changes in several genes related to the immune system.

Although more studies are needed, a growing body of research is building showing that air pollution has negative effects on newborns, especially in communities. Disproportionate impact of air pollution.

Bechard highlighted some of this research in her response. NM political report. She said particulate pollution, also known as soot and ozone, a major component of smog, has been linked to adverse birth outcomes such as preterm birth, low birth weight and “heartbreaking and even stillbirths”.

Being born too small or too early can have lasting effects on a child, she said.

The Bechard twins were born prematurely, and one of them has a sensory processing disorder and ADHD. Both of these conditions are related to premature birth, she said.

“I can speak from personal experience that issues like these affect the quality of daily life for children and families for years,” she said.

Premature birth and low birth weights increase the risk of developmental issues, including cerebral palsy, visual and hearing impairments, mental health challenges and developmental delays, she said.

And these are not the only effects of air pollution on unborn babies. Researchers have found some evidence that pregnant women exposed to particulate matter are more likely to give birth. Cleft palate or cleft lip.

Burchard: Living near oil and gas facilities increases the risk of heart and nerve damage.

“Air pollution is a serious concern for future parents, even if there’s no additional burden, so I feel really sorry for any parent who worries more than anything else about how pollution is affecting their child,” she said.

Inequitable exposure

Where a person lives can affect exposure to air pollution. Exposure to air pollution is not evenly distributed. As a result, “the burden of air pollution on pregnant women and their children is disproportionately distributed,” she said.

That means communities of color are more likely to be exposed to higher levels of air pollution. Bechard She highlighted the 2020 systematic review of studies conducted between 2009 and 2017. This review found that black and Latina/Hispanic individuals, as well as individuals with asthma, were at increased risk of exposure to asthma and adverse birth outcomes for their children. Smoke

“We know that communities of color and low-income communities are disproportionately exposed to air pollution from sources like heavily traveled roads and fossil-fueled power plants because of historically racist practices like redistricting and other policies,” Bechard said, adding that he is not white. People are also more likely to develop asthma.

This is a form of environmental injustice, she said, adding that “being able to reduce exposure to air pollution before birth is in many ways a privilege.”

Bechard said that breathing unhealthy air during pregnancy does not guarantee that the baby will have adverse birth outcomes.

“Many people who breathe unhealthy air will have healthy children,” she said. But breathing unhealthy air increases the risk of exposure to consequences that no family wants for their child.

Reduce exposure

There is little that pregnant women who are exposed to air pollution where they live or work can reasonably do to reduce their exposure, he said.

There are steps people can take to reduce exposure, Prunicki said.

“Know your air quality first,” Prunicki said.

Air quality monitoring and alerts are an important tool that agencies provide to help people manage their risks.

In the year During the 2022 wildfires, the New Mexico Department of Environment’s Office of Air Quality worked with the US Forest Service to monitor air quality issues, including increased levels of particulate matter. The two agencies have established special EPA-approved monitors, known as Environmental Beta Abundance Monitors, at various locations. These helped to track minor issues and ensure up-to-date information.

Information from those controllers may be distributed on AirNow.gov and social media.

In addition, the Bureau of Air Quality uses the Smoke Management System website to track wildfires and prescribed burns and provide information to the public.

“You can download apps on your phone that can give you a rough idea of ​​outdoor air quality,” Prunicki says, adding that it’s good to be aware of indoor air quality.

Indoor air quality can be improved by using air filters or filtration systems, she said.

Pregnant women can reduce their exposure by staying on days with poor air quality.

Prunicki said it’s a good idea to wear a mask for people who have to go outside during poor air quality. Those masks should be designed to filter pollution. N95 masks, popular during the Covid-19 pandemic, are an example of a mask that reduces exposure to pollution.

“These things can help, but it’s important to acknowledge that these types of measures may not be accessible to everyone,” Bechard said. “For example, pregnant women who work outdoors cannot avoid being outdoors on days when the air quality is poor. The environmental injustice of air pollution is really a call to action to do everything we can to reduce the sources of pollution as much as possible.

Prunicki thinks pregnant women should be given air purifiers or filters to help protect them and their babies from air pollution.

Sources of air pollution

According to the New Mexico Department of Environmental Protection, the largest source of air pollution in the state is the oil and gas sector.

NMED said. NM political report This includes tank batteries, compression stations, gas processing facilities and refiners. Any facility with a combustion engine or turbine or combustion or closed combustion equipment can contribute to air pollution, the department said. Those emissions include volatile organic compounds, nitrogen oxides, carbon monoxide, sulfur dioxide and hydrogen sulfide.

“Recognizing the amount of air pollution from the oil and gas sector, the Air Quality Bureau has proposed the most stringent regulations for ozone pre-pollution in the country,” NMED wrote in its response to questions. NM political report.

These regulations have since been adopted and implemented at the state level.

It is one area where pollution can be avoided by changing norms and lifestyles. Increasing the adoption of electric vehicles will eliminate pollutants such as nitrogen oxides. As more and more people switch to electric vehicles, Air quality is expected to improve. However, currently electric vehicles It comes with injustice. Charging stations are not always available in low-income areas and the cost of electric vehicles puts them out of reach for many families.

In the year In 2021, President Joe Biden directed the US Environmental Protection Agency to set emission standards for cars and trucks and mandate that half of all new vehicles sold be electric by 2030.

EPA announced New proposed vehicle emission standards It will take effect in April with vehicles manufactured for the 2027 model year.

At the state level, NMD’s Office of Climate Change is working to develop the Clean Transportation Fuels Program, which would set upper limits for carbon fuels. This does not mean moving away from fossil fuels. These regulations could allow electric vehicles, but could mean more hydrogen fuel cells or renewable natural gas, such as methane captured from animal waste.

In the year The state has approved guidelines that require at least 7 percent of new passenger vehicles sold in New Mexico to have zero tailpipe emissions starting in 2026.

Another source of pollution for which the EPA has proposed more stringent emission guidelines is power plants.

Bechard said the APA’s recent proposal to limit greenhouse gas emissions and other pollutants from power plants could reduce air pollution levels for pregnant women.

“Setting strong emission reduction standards for power plants and supporting the necessary transition to cleaner energy sources is key to reducing health-damaging air pollution,” she said. “Any regulatory action we take to tackle climate change will also affect air pollution, because climate change is making air pollution worse in a number of ways – for example, climate change makes wildfires worse, which smoke is bad for health; hot days are bad for our health and especially unhealthy for pregnant people.” Increases ozone formation.

EPA also proposed updating the National Ambient Air Quality Standards for particulate matter and is expected to consider updating the NAAQS for ozone next year.

These are areas where policy makers have limited control. But not all pollution can be controlled by new or improved regulations.

According to NMED, the state experiences air pollution “due to the nature of our environment from wind-blown dust” that can increase the amount of particulate matter in the air.

This can affect people with respiratory conditions such as asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and covid-19.

“Despite the prevalence of dust in New Mexico and the potential impact it can have on our most vulnerable residents, dust is an often overlooked pollutant,” NMED states.

The Office of Air Quality has developed a dust prevention plan for southern Dona Ana and Luna counties, which will work to increase the effects of exposure to dust.

Dust in the atmosphere. The Bureau of Air Quality and the National Weather Service have released dust storm advisories to help people prepare.

Bechard said wildfires are one source of air pollution that is uncontrollable.

“This is a serious concern because we know that climate change is increasing the conditions that make wildfires worse and increase wildfires,” she said. “We cannot control air pollution from wildfire smoke, which makes it more important than ever to control the sources of pollution that we can address with regulatory changes. Children and infants are especially vulnerable to the effects of wildfire smoke for a number of physiological (and developmental) reasons.”



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